31-years later, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist continues to inspire readers

In 1988, Paulo Coelho thought his 176 paged book – The Alchemist – was a failure for it hardly attracted readers. But three years later, it sold over half-a-million-copies in Brazil. Still it befuddled the author. The success was neither a gold rush nor a domino effect but a victory that was time consuming. The first edition printed by a small-time publisher released just 900 copies and it failed to create any impact. It was only after the launch of his second book, Brida in 1990 that The Alchemist found its readers. In 1993, HarperCollins printed 50,000 copies of The Alchemist and the magic happened. Over the past three decades since the day of its launch, The Alchemist has been translated in 80 languages, has won 115 internationally-acclaimed awards, has stayed on chart of The New York Times Bestseller List and has sold over 150 million copies.

Around five years ago, I found something fancy when I spotted The Alchemist and gave it a read. But my enthusiasm was short-lived. Soon I was lukewarm about the book due to differences in belief and ideologies. But then again I decided to read as I felt I had learned something over the last five years in my life. Oh yes, I found parallels between life and the book, after all, to quote the author, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

It is the mythical story of Santiago, a shepherd by choice, with a hope to travel far and wide and to search the truth behind his recurrent dream of finding riches. He begins his journey to reach the Pyramids of Andalusia in search of an earthly-treasure, only to realise that it is buried deep in an abandoned church at the small village where he belongs. It wasn’t the treasure that mattered but the journey.

The book is never short of reminding us about life. Throughout the travel, Santiago converses with nature and becomes one with them, that even helped him turn into the wind yet his belief in God did not cause any harm. Time and again, through the characters Paulo Coelho prompts us to listen to the ‘Soul of the World’ and to our heart’s calling. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity,” he writes.

Comparing it to our current day lives, humans, all too often, forget to live in the present and rather regret the past or plan for the future. The best part is we realise this late, giving no window to learn from our mistakes. However, despite facing multiple time-testing incidents, Santiago continues to be in the present without losing even a bit of hope and is undeterred. 31 years later, the book is still relevant. The reason being is its simple analogies, teaching us lessons we did not learn at school and philosophy that Coelho narrates with a handful characters.

Bhavani Prabhakar